Aaron Gerow gerow at ynu.ac.jp
Thu Jan 10 22:26:20 EST 2002

>>People were asking about the criticial reception of Go--well, here's one
>>indicator.  I personally have big problems with the film's politics
>What were those problems?

Well, maybe it's just me, but as a zainichi movie it has a lot of 
problems.  I certainly understand the original author Kaneshiro Kazuki's 
effort to move the zainichi issue away from the established master 
narratives (South vs. North, Korean vs. Japanese) and speak to a 
generation less concerned with politics and less sure of the certainties 
of identity. But with the film I felt weird identifying with Sugihara 
(Kubozuka).  The film works hard to make us identify with him (heck, many 
of us would like to have Shibasaki Ko as our girlfriend!), but I couldn't 
help thinking about the problem of having lots of Japanese young people, 
who know nothing of the zainichi issue, vicariously identifying with a 
zainichi.  Perhaps they identify with him as a part of a lot of the 
larger negotiations over identity going on in contemporary Japanese youth 
culture (preferring blackness, for instance, over Japaneseness); 
Sugihara's call to destroy boundaries has its appeal for hemmed in 
Japanese. But I think the main reason we identify him is generic: 
basically, the film just borrows the structures of the young rebel/teen 
romance film (from James Dean on) and sticks in a zainichi, without much 
regard for the crucial differences between these contexts.  In other 
words, people identify with Sugihara not because he is zainichi, but 
because he is a cool teen rebel.  The film is never self-critical about 
these generic structures of identification, or about these feelings of 
coolness, and thus never really questions its Japanese spectators and 
their role in oppressing zainichi. Frankly, it just seems like more 
nationalist consumption of the Asian Other. I could add more about how 
the film is, in the end, fairly conservative (Sugihara's parents end up 
being good people), but let's leave that for another day.

Anyway, I append my Daily Yomiuri review below:

Title: Go
Directed by Isao Yukisada
Starring:  Yosuke Kubozuka, Ko Shibasaki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Shinobu Otake
Rating: ***

	It used to be that all traces of Korean presence were erased from 
Japanese film.  Even though hundreds of thousands of Koreans remained in 
Japan after World War II, the manifestations of their reality, from 
Korean names to hangul words, were long kept out of Japanese cinema.
	That was only one manifestation of the enduring discrimination 
perpetuated against Koreans by Japanese society. It was as if, if you 
don't like them, refuse to acknowledge their existence. In turn, even 
Korean-born celebrities like Rikidozan, the pro wrestler who became a 
Japanese hero in the 1950s, had to hide the fact they were Korean.
	While discrimination against resident (zainichi) Koreans is far from 
over, the lines have changed on the pop culture front.  Yakuza films 
began to feature zainichi characters early on, Nagisa Oshima produced 
such cinematic protests against discrimination as Death by Hanging 
(Koshikei, 1968), and now even zainichi directors like Yoichi Sai can 
take up the life of Koreans in Japan in both serious and humorous tones 
in commercial movies.
	In the most recent example, Go, based on the award-winning novel by 
zainichi writer Kazuki Kaneshiro, takes up the Koreans-in-Japan issue in 
what could best be called a mass-marketed young love romance.  For better 
or for worse, being zainichi has become cool.
	The story centers on Sugihara (Yosuke Kubozuka), a rebellious zainichi 
youth who, against the protests of his teachers at Korean school (run for 
students with North Korean citizenship), decides to transfer to a regular 
Japanese institution.  There he is subject to virulent discrimination, 
but as the son of a boxer who received not a small amount of "training" 
from his father, he is able to stand his own and even win a certain 
amount of popularity through his fists.
	A beautiful, free-spirited girl by the name of Sakurai (Ko Shibasaki) 
even begins aggressively approaching him. Soon Sugihara is in love, but 
Sakurai does not know he is a zainichi Korean. This eventually creates 
problems since her father has taught her from day one that Koreans are 
dirty and vulgar.
	There is a lot in Go condemning Japanese attitudes towards zainichi, but 
as Sugihara's narration humorously emphasizes at certain points in the 
film, this is supposed to be a love story.  Thus Sugihara's intellectual 
friend Jungil can eloquently express the dilemmas of second- or 
third-generation zainichi, born and raised in Japan but forced by both 
parents and Japanese society, for different reasons, to act Korean. But 
many of these obstacles, once placed in the youth romance genre, become 
the stock hurdles the lovers must cross to be united.
	In the final analysis, Go works quite well as a love story. One 
genuinely feels for Sugihara when his love for Sakurai hits a brick wall 
and few recent Japanese youth movies, it seems, have been as compelling 
	When addressing the Korean issue, however, Go ultimately fails as a 
zainichi film. It is true that director Isao Yukisada was probably not 
aiming at a social problem movie, like those made in the dozens by the 
old Japanese left. One worries, however, about the zainichi issue 
becoming simply a prop for a romance primarily aimed at Japanese 
	True, this is a different age.  Just as Kaneshiro, echoing the general 
distaste of Japanese youth for over-serious politics, makes his novel 
refreshingly light and comedic, Yukisada focuses on a Sugihara who has no 
interest in the political mind-set of his elders.  While his Korean 
teachers tried to preserve the purity of identity, he just wants, in his 
words, to "erase national borders."
	This is more cool pose than radical action, however. Given how the film 
rather conservatively supports Sugihara's parents' efforts on his behalf, 
his proclamations at the end about the emptiness of his identity are more 
fashionable than analytical, speaking more to Japanese desiring escape 
from Japanese norms than to zainichi realities.
	Frankly, caught in the web of Yukisada's somewhat over-manipulative 
style, I thought Sugihara was damn cool at the conclusion, so much so 
that I wished I could experience a moment like his on my own.  That's the 
power of Go as a youth romance. But when audiences hope to become hip 
zainichi, one wonders if Japanese cinema's long-time problem with Koreans 
has only gotten more confused.

Aaron Gerow
Associate Professor
International Student Center
Yokohama National University
79-1 Tokiwadai
Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama 240-8501
E-mail: gerow at ynu.ac.jp
Phone: 81-45-339-3170
Fax: 81-45-339-3171

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